On the eve of the final round of the 2010 British Open at St. Andrews, the British media understandably threw its support behind Paul Casey, the first Englishman to play in the final group since Nick Faldo in 1993, when Greg Norman won at Royal St. George’s.
The tabloids had a field day with leader Louis Oosthuizen’s nickname:”Shrek 4 (shots clear).” It ain’t ogre til it’s ogre,” yelled one. But it was ogre by the 12th, when Casey drove into a gorse bush and made a triple bogey. Plenty of time, then, for the trophy engraver to get his spelling correct. The claret jug belonged to South Africa’s King Louis, the fabulously named Lodewicus Theodorus Oosthuizen, a name fit for a Roman emperor and the champion golfer of the year.
We caught up with him recently and asked about that final round at St. Andrews, his year with the claret jug and life on the farm.
At what point on Sunday at St. Andrews did you start to think you could win?
After the 12th, I felt it was mine to lose when Paul [Casey] drove into the gorse bush. But I still knew in the back of my head that you could make double bogeys out there. But I just felt very calm.
Did you feel like that all week even though you took the lead after the second round?
I was really relaxed all week. If I had been playing with Lee Westwood or Martin Kaymer or Tiger Woods, I might have felt more nervous. And nobody really made a run at me. I didn’t mind going under the radar. I guess I am not under the radar any more. That’s all part of it. I don’t mind being in the limelight now, but I am happy on my farm too.
You only made one mistake at St. Andrews — letting slip that your nickname is Shrek.
It’s just a bit of fun. I take it on the chin. My friends from my amateur days started it saying I look like Shrek. It’s the gap in the teeth. You can’t choose your friends, so what can I say? I guess it’s a lot easier saying Shrek than Oosthuizen.
Can you believe you won the Open at the home of golf?
Winning at St. Andrews was so special. Just to walk on the same ground as all the greats of the game and to play the same holes is so special. It’s holy ground. I love walking around the town with all the old pubs and golf shops. It’s a unique place.
How did the celebrations go on Sunday night?
We went to the Jigger Inn by the 17th green, which my management company had rented for the week. It was chaos in there. I didn’t think I should drink anything out of the claret. You know, it’s the claret jug! But my friends made me drink champagne. We continued the party back at our rented house in St. Andrews. I got to bed just before 4 a.m.!
Did you treat yourself to a Ferrari after winning the Open, or did you buy the tractor you said you would?
Oh, the tractor! It’s not as fast, but it’s stronger. On my weeks off I’ve been getting up at 6 a.m. and working on the farm [about 60 acres] with it until late at night. I even did that for a few days the week before The Players Championship.
Have you looked at the claret jug every day?
It’s been great to see the jug in my house. My father put a sign up on the entrance to the farm. It says, ‘Home of the Claret Jug.’ I don’t want to give my jug back. But hopefully I can get it straight back on Sunday at Royal St. George’s.
Has it been fun traveling the world with it?
I’ve been so nervous taking it to all the tournaments. Frightened I might lose it. It’s incredible to see my name on there with all the other South Africans — Bobby Locke, Mr. Player and Ernie [Els]. And Seve, Faldo, Nicklaus, Palmer, Watson and all the way back to the old names like Old Tom Morris and Young Tom, J.H. Taylor and James Braid. The letters of the old champions are so tiny; it’s really hard to read them.
Have you had time to enjoy being champion?
I tore ligaments in my left ankle last fall on a hunting trip with Charl (Schwartzel) and had to take time off. It was a good break to chill out with family and friends in South Africa. I got to see how much me winning the Open means to everyone back home. We went camping near Mossel Bay. You know, just pitching a tent with the family. Went on another with friends and played cricket on the beach and cooked meat on a brai [barbecue]. I’ve been messing about in boats on the river by the wife’s parent’s farm, too. And I went to Los Angeles for the first time. I was really excited to see the “Hollywood” sign on the side of the hill.
You have taken up your U.S. Tour card. Why?
I want to give myself a couple of years in the States to see if I enjoy it. But I also love Europe. I have so much more confidence now that I can win big tournaments. Winning the Open made me realize it’s possible. I want to get into the world top 10 this year and then get higher.
Which major would you like to win next?
I think the Masters is always in everyone’s mind after the Open. It would be nice to get a green jacket like Charl [Schwartzel]). But any of the four majors is so big. It’s what you work for, and I think you don’t really want to put them in any order.
How much has Ernie Els helped your career?
Coming off a farm, where my dad was a farmer [who] probably struggled a bit in those days [the late 1990s], Ernie’s golf foundation came at a perfect time. I was in it for three years just before I turned pro, and just everything that the foundation did golfing-wise for me was great for my career. When I was growing up, Ernie was the one that everyone wanted to be like. He is still a big hero in South Africa and around the world. I had goose bumps watching him on TV winning the Open in 2002 [at Muirfield]. I was thinking, wow, I hope that happens to me.